Not every U.S. President left an institution behind upon their passing. Some have multiple cities named after them. Many have a museum that tells their life story and/or celebrates their contributions to their homelands. Some states are prouder of their famous citizens than others.
A number of our former leaders have eponymous presidential libraries, though most were established in or after the 20th century, well after they and their immediate family died. You’d think the very first fully dedicated Presidential Library would have been in honor of one of the really cool Presidents — the ones who get movies made of their lives, who get to be played by upright actors like Sam Waterston or David Morse.
Nope. This guy’s was first.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. Normally we’ll choose one major locale as our primary objective, drive that-a-way, and concentrate on exploring the vicinity for a few days before retreating.
We crafted this year’s itinerary with a different approach. Instead of choosing one city as a hub, we focused on one of the motifs that’s recurred through several of our trips: grave sites of Presidents of the United States of America. Our 2018 road trip would effectively have the format and feel of a video game side quest — collecting nine American Presidents across ten presidencies, four states, seven days, and 2000 miles…
Ask any average passerby anywhere but Ohio who their favorite President was; if they name Rutherford B. Hayes, it’s because their minds suddenly went blank and his was the first name that popped in at random. His administration certainly got off on the wrong foot — Hayes lost the popular vote but took the Electoral College. To call it “winning” is inaccurate — in the infamous Compromise of 1877, negotiations behind closed doors gave Hayes the minimum electors he needed to win, in exchange for pulling all remaining federal troops from the South, effectively ending Reconstruction in one fell swoop and leaving millions of freed slaves without anyone to defend them from all those Civil War sore losers who once owned them. Three cheers for 19th century political corruption. And bipartisan, at that.
In his defense, before and after that ignominious kickoff, Hayes pursued righteous causes throughout his lifetime. He proudly defended runaway slaves in court in his early lawyering days. He was wounded five times in the Civil War as he rose through the ranks of the Union Army. He helped pave the way for the founding of Ohio State University. He was a member of the Congress that passed the Fourteenth Amendment.
Meanwhile on the side, he was also an enthusiastic archivist, by which I mean he saved everything. The officially dubbed Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museums at Spiegel Grove, established in 1916, is and was made possible through a nonprofit organization in association with the State of Ohio, but it was also made possible by the enormous number of collections, souvenirs, gifts, documents, and things in general that were in his possession upon his passing. We were interested in seeing his gravesite in the lovely park out back, but we were also happy to find that Hayes’ museum contains an above-average number of genuine items from the Hayes Presidency, as opposed to well-meaning but less awe-inspiring replicas. We’ve become the kind of weary travelers who roll their eyes whenever a given museum shows us too many artifacts that are like some actual artifacts that they totally don’t have.
(When I leaned over the carriage to photograph a wall decoration behind it, I found myself scolded by the prerecorded voice of an unseen hall monitor booming from the ceiling: “YOU ARE TOO CLOSE TO THE EXHIBIT. PLEASE STEP BACK.” That unwelcome jolt made my photo come out blurry.)
(Full disclosure: the dollhouse contained replica dollhouse furniture.)
Not merely content to celebrates Hayes’ life and accomplishments, still another room of his museum contains mementos from other Presidential administrations, including an entire wall devoted to Presidential autographs on various forms of correspondence. The museum doesn’t exist merely in a vacuum for the locals; its achievements in historical preservation have been noticed and appreciated by others at the top.
…okay, so it’s fair to say replicas have their uses and aren’t all bad.
To be continued!
* * * * *
[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]